Three European academics asked themselves recently how 19 United Nations summit meetings have been unable to produce a treaty on global warming. Why the cause of climate change has fallen apart is described in “Melting Summits,” a paper and cautionary tale just published in the Academy of Management Journal by Elke Schüssler of Germany, Charles Clemens Rüling of France and Bettina Wittneben of the U.K.

No idea in our time has had deeper political support. Al Gore and John Kerry have described disbelievers in global warming as basically idiots—”shoddy scientists” in Mr. Kerry’s words. But somehow, an idea with which “no serious scientist disagrees” has gone nowhere as policy. The collapse of the U.N.’s 2009 Copenhagen climate summit was a meltdown for the ages.

In an interview with the Academy of Management about her paper, Bettina Wittneben of Oxford University, who supports a climate-change treaty and has attended 13 climate meetings, summarized the wheel-spinning: “Sometimes I just find myself shaking my head after talking to participants in recent COPs [the U.N.’s climate meetings]. They’ll come back from the meetings simply brimming with enthusiasm about the networking they’ve done, the contacts they’ve made, the new ideas about their research they had or the new angles to lobbying they thought of. But ask what progress was made in terms of global policy initiatives, and all you get is a shrug.”